Useful Notes: Maximilien Robespierre
"Robespierre is an immortal figure not because he reigned supreme over the Revolution for a few months, but because he was the mouthpiece of its purest and most tragic discourse."
— François Furet, Interpreting the French Revolution
"Our revolution has made me feel the full force of the axiom that history is fiction and I am convinced that chance and intrigue have produced more heroes than genius and virtue."Maximilien Robespierre was a major figure of The French Revolution. To this very day, he remains one of the most controversial and debated figures in the history of France and Europe. When Louis XVI convened the meeting of the Estates-General, Robespierre (a scholarship boy and rising attorney who had taken "pro-bono cases") became one of the many young deputies who found a career in political office open to them for the first time. Later he was among the signatories of the Tennis Court Oath. In the National Assembly, Robespierre became notable for criticizing limited suffrage and for condeming a constitutional defense of slavery. He became popular among Parisian Radicals for advocating universal male suffrage, rights for minorities (Jews, Protestants, Blacks), abolition of slavery and the death penalty. He also attained prominence in the newly formed Jacobin Club and played a major role in taking the nominally bi-partisan club to a radical direction after the Champs des Mars massacre. During the short lived constitutional monarchy, many revolutionaries including the moderate Girondins advocated going to war in order to spread the ideas of the French Revolution. Robespierre took a hardline stance against the war but his position was a minority at the time, and war was declared and fully backed by the King and Queen (which Robespierre pointed out was enough reason to be skeptical of the entire project). He regained prominence after the August 10, 1792 Insurrection against the King, when he became one of many deputies elected, for the first time via universal male sufffrage, to the National Convention. Robespierre's notoriety begins with his participation in the debate on the trial of King Louis XVI. He famously reversed his former protest against the death penalty citing the King's treason as grounds for immediate summary execution and his death justifiable as a war measure. The mismanagement of the war and the mounting paranoia among Parisian street radicals led to bitter factionalism, culminating in a second insurrection against the Girondins, which made the Jacobins the majority party in the Convention. In the fifth year of his political career, Robespierre finally entered political office, as one of the 12 members (and the most publicly known and prominent) of the Committee of Public Safety. Citing wartime conditions, they suspended the newly written 1793 Constitution (the most radical document of The Enlightenment era) and instituted a policy they called "the Terror". Robespierre was never actually the dictator or in any way the sole leader of France. He was the intellectual and moral backbone for the Committee while it ran the country; however, his influence within the Committee was subject to the machinations of other members and tended to ebb and flow. While he is usually portrayed (and not without reason) as the personification of the worst excesses of the Revolution, he actually fought as ferociously against radicals as he did royalists. He also played a role in recalling brutal and corrupt mission representatives such as Joseph Fouche, Jean-Baptiste Carrier, Jean-Lamber Tallien and Paul Barras. His own political position, while radical left, favored the emerging middle class of artisans and small businessmen (who he subsidized during the Terror), geared towards wealth redistribution and what we would call, today, the welfare state. His paranoid, fastidious, self-righteous nature, increasing fanaticism and advocacy of a thin narrow path between extreme and moderate tendencies, led to a schism and fall-out with erstwhile Jacobin Allies such as Hebert and in the case of Danton and Desmoulins, close personal friends, all of whom he sent to the guillotine. His downfall was the result of the fact that he had alienated virtually all his former allies — moderates, extremes, the National Convention, even the radical Paris Sections. The events of his downfall (occuring on 9 Thermidor of the French Revolutionary Calendar) has since become proverbial as Full-Circle Revolution. While it marked the end of the radical and violent phase, it also ended the reform and progressive initiatives undertaken in the same period (which included price ceilings, widespread government participation, meritocracy and the abolition of slavery). The largest mass execution in the Revolution happened the day after Robespierre's death, when 77 loyalists were guillotined in a single day. In the aftermath, Thermidorians gave him and other radicals (which had formerly included themselves) a Historical Villain Upgrade as a "bloodthirsty dictator" that endures to this day. Already in the post-revolutionary era, later observers, from Cambaceres to Napoleon, (including the ones who turned on him such as Barere and Billaud-Varenne) questioned this narrative and noted how his reputation and influence was greatly exaggerated. Others such as Gracchus Babeuf, a Hebertist who had initially welcomed the "death of the tyrant" lamented how Poor Communication Kills, noting, "To awaken Robespierre is to awaken democracy itself." A highly controversial person, Robespierre became in the 19th and early 20th Century, the personification of the Knight Templar radical for whom Utopia Justifies the Means, combining personal probity (he was called "The Incorruptible" and it wasn't ironic in any way) with a vindictive, self-righteous streak. He became in, Lord Acton's words, "the most hateful character in the forefront of history since Machiavelli reduced to a code the wickedness of public men." Later critics argue that Robespierre set a precedent for the likes of Vladimir Lenin and one of his most recent biographies is entitled "Fatal Purity." Other critics have questioned this reading and argue that his life and actions was subject to a smear campaign in the vein of Richard III, making him the The Scapegoat for revolutionary excesses and there are groups of historians and organizations who hope to rehabilitate his reputation to a more balanced level. The vast majority of fictional depictions subject him to a Historical Villain Upgrade.
— Maximilien Robespierre
Works featuring Robespierre:
- Rose of Versailles
- Le Chevalier d'Eon
- Requiem Chevalier Vampire
- The Sandman, "Thermidor"
- The Black Book
- La Revolution Francaise
- Danton (1921)
- Danton (1983)
- The Doctor Who serial The Reign of Terror
- The Lady and the Duke (2001, Cameo at the End)
- Honor Harrington has the Havenite political leader Rob(ert) S.(/tanton) Pierre running the Committee of Public Safety.
- The Scarlet Pimpernel
- Look to the West (Though it's actually an Alternate History "brother", Jean-Baptiste Robespierre)
- Victor Hugo's 93
- A Place of Greater Safety
- The Danton Case / Thermidor
- The Snow Palace
- The Gods are Thirsty
- Hark! A Vagrant - Several Appearances alongside Danton and Saint-Just.
- Assassin's Creed: Unity
Provides examples of:
- Accidental Misnaming: At the beginning of his political career, journalists chronicling the goings-on at the National Assemby called him everything from Robespierrot to Robests-piesse, Robertz-Pierre to Rabesse-Pierre.
- Affably Evil: Most people didn't consider him evil until the very end, but everyone noted that he was personally highly kind, polite and had impeccable manners.
- A God Am I: His advocacy of Civic Deism and a religion on the same, culminated in the notorious Festival of the Supreme Being. The event was personally overseen by Robespierre and Jacques-Louis David and ended with him, coming down the top of a cardboard mountain in a Blue Outfit and Nice Hat. The event was strangely enough, a public successs (a turnout of 500,000, spontaneous celebrations across France) but fellow deputies saw it as incredibly arrogant and far too personal for their liking. One deputy, Jacques-Alexis Thuriot, echoed the general sentiment: "Look at the bugger; it's not enough for him to be master, he has to be God."
- Alternative Character Interpretation: In different works and among historians to this very day.
- No one's quite sure if he's a sincere democrat in difficult circumstances(Pro) or a fanatical blood-thirsty Knight Templar(Con), the author Norman Hampson famously wrote a booknote that focuses on the sheer impossibility to resolve his character, noting that on one hand he was incorruptible, dedicated, sincere and even a nice man on a personal level but he was also ambitious, shrewd as a parliamentary tactician and became quite comfortable with using violent tactics for achieving high democratic ideals.
- Other historians, such as Furet, R. R. Palmer and Richard Cobb raise doubts about Robespierre's role altogether, pointing out that he was never really an originator of policy; he tended to be quite reluctant and moderate until the situation called for decisive action, that the people who plotted his fall deliberately scapegoated him by exaggerating his "dominance" in the Committee of Public Safety and he was never as popular among the people as Mirabeau or Danton. In this view, Robespierre by sheer accident became the embodiment of the Revolution, a position out of proportion to his talents and meager achievements.
- Anti-Villain / Anti-Hero: Type III during the first years of the revolution, type IV after the murder of Marat and type V during his last year.
- Armor-Piercing Question: He issued a famous real-life one during a speech defending himself from accusations by the Girondins. After defending himself spiritedly, he called the Girondins out for not doing enough to uphold the needs of the common people:
"I will not remind you that the sole object of contention dividing us is that you have instinctively defended all acts of new ministers, and we, of principles; that you seemed to prefer power, and we equality... Why don't you prosecute the Commune, the Legislative Assembly, the Sections of Paris, the Assemblies of the Cantons and all who imitated us? For all these things have been illegal, as illegal as the Revolution, as the fall of the Monarchy and of the Bastille, as illegal as liberty itself... Citizens, do you want a revolution without a revolution? What is this spirit of persecution which has directed itself against those who freed us from chains?"
- Asexuality: One popular theory. However, historians have suggested that he was in a relationship with Eleonore Duplay, a young woman who was the daughter of the Duplay family which had given Robespierre housing. The two were often seen walking in gardens during the early 1790s and upon his death, she dressed in black all her life, earning the label, "la Veuve Robespierre"(Robespierre's Widow).
- Brainy Brunette: He mostly wore the highly powdered white wig for all public appearances, but underneath that he had brown hair. And he was an intellectual, fairly smart and well read. This can be seen in one of the rare depictions of him without the wig, in Jacques-Louis David's ''Serment du Jeu de Paume''◊(he's extreme right, in the golden brown outfit).
- Briefer Than They Think: Robespierre was part of the Committee of Public Safety from 27th July 1793 to 27th July 1794, which means he was part of government for exactly one year. Before, he was just a politician among others, albeit a quite influential one.
- Cassandra Truth: One of Robespierre's most famous speeches, often quoted by pacifist French politicians (such as Jean Jaures who later opposed World War One) was against the Girondin drive for War against Austria in 1792, in the altruistic aim of "spreading the Revolution". He was one of the few to oppose it, pointing out that the war would destabilize the consolidation of the Revolution, pave the road for military dictatorship and even fail in its aim of sprading democracy by force of arms. It anticipated the fact that in the course of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, France Won the War, Lost the Peace:
"The most extravagant idea that can be born in the head of a political thinker is to believe that it suffices for people to enter, weapons in hand, among a foreign people and expect to have its laws and constitution embraced. No one loves armed missionaries; the first lesson of nature and prudence is to repulse them as enemies."
- Civil Warcraft: Spent most of the Revolution engaged in it to one degree or another, and it was one of the major reasons why he was slowly pushed towards the terror.
- Crusading Lawyer: He built his reputation as "L'Incorruptible" for defending the poor in pro-bono work, because of which he was not as wealthy as other lawyers (such as Danton), until his election to the National Convention.
- The Dandy : He is definitely the most flamboyantly dressed of all revolutionaries, he wore coats of green, blue and pink, wore a powdered white wig and was known to wear blue-green tinted spectacles at all time. He even had the spirit of a "dandy l'originale" in that he was critical of revolutionaries trying to be Bourgeois Bohemian and Slumming It by taking on sans-culotte fashion, rather than openly telling your constitutency which class you come from.
- Dark Messiah: The real-life poster boy.
- Deism: He tried to establish the Cult of Reason and the Supreme Being. That is, state deism. He did so because while he saw Christianity (especially the Church) as a threat for the Revolution, he also disapproved of atheism which was promoted by hard-liners revolutionaries (like Hébert) in the Cult of Reason.
"If God does not exist, it is necessary to invent him."
- Robespierre was initially opposed to de-Christianisation because he felt that the people of France were not ready and that religious sentiment itself, as opposed to organized religion, could be used to direct public virtue and democratic values. He famously justified this quoting Voltaire:
- Draco in Leather Pants: He seems to be fairly popular in France. Or at least much more balanced in view and less disliked than in England and America, where the media portrayal is overwhelmingly negative.
- Even in France, Robespierre remains highly controversial. He is the only major Revolutionary without a street name in Paris and any attempts to give him honour are often met with strong reactions from conservatives, left-wingers and other moderates who regard him as anathema. Even in his hometown in Arras, residents are known to feel ashamed of their most famous son. However, even among his local critics, Robespierre gets a fairer shake than in America and England where he's put in the same breadth as Stalin or Pol Pot, whereas they regard him as a self-righteous fanatic or a tragic instance of Jumping Off the Slippery Slope.
- The Soviet Union and other communists regarded him as a hero for most of the 20th Century, with a sordid tendency to idealize the Reign of Terror. To them, anyone who thinks he was tyrannical and/or represented the rising liberal bourgeoisie is labelled... a right-wing bourgeois reactionary, a collaborator of capital, etc. Left-wing critics such as Trotskyite Daniel Guerin point out that Robespierre actually neutralized the sans-culottes by depriving them a voice during the Revolution and he was not as popular a leader as Danton and Hebert. Robespierre to them symbolizes the beginning of authoritarian Marxism (Marxist-Leninism, Stalinism, Maoism, etc) that creates a forced unity in the name of "the people".
- Robespierre is more favorably looked at in Haiti and Africa (for his abolitionism), and even in Vietnam where the Viet-Cong(who were raised in the French colonial period) regarded Robespierre as a true revolutionary as compared to Napoleon, who they felt betrayed all its principles.
- Everyone Went to School Together: Robespierre and his friend-turned-political-enemy Camille Desmoulins were schoolmates, and even classmates. Robespierre then had Camille Desmoulins' head off. Napoleon and Robes' younger brother Augustin were friends, as well.
- In fact Robespierre served as best man at Desmoulin's wedding.
- Also, he was the best Latin student at his school. This meant he was supposed to give a welcoming speech to the newly crowned....King Louis XVI.
- The Extremist Was Right: As stated by Alfred Cobban:
"No one at the time of the Revolution, went as far as Robespierre in stating what were later to be recognized as the essential conditions of the democratic state... Universal franchise, equality of rights regardless of race or religion, pay for public service to enable rich and poor alike to hold office, publicity for legislative debates, a national system of education, the use of taxation to smooth out economic inequalities, recognition of the economic responsibilities of society to the individual...religious liberty, local self-government - such were the some of the principles for which he stood, and which are now taken for granted in democratic societies."
- Famous Last Words: Robespierre's jaws were shattered by a gunshot so he did not have conventional last words. But the last things he said in public was during the Thermidor Reaction, where his former allies and fellow participants in the Reign of Terror, some of whom had more blood on his hands than him, mocked the fact that he was silenced by outrage, remarked:
Man in Crowd: "It is Danton's blood that is choking you!"Robespierre: "Danton! It is Danton then you regret? Cowards! Why did you not defend him?"
- Four Eyes, Zero Soul: Zero Soul is probably an overestimation, but by the end he was no innocent.
- From Nobody to Nightmare: Who would have thought a pale, meek milquetoast would become one of the most feared revolutionaries in history? Comte de Mirabeau certainly thought so
Mirabeau: This man will go far, he believes what he says.
- Full-Circle Revolution: His downfall was related to one. So much so that Marxists often called this a "Thermidorian Reaction".
Paul Cambon: We did not realize that in killing Robespierre we would kill the Republic.
- Several years later, many of the people who turned on him, both on the Committee of Public Safety and otherwise, regretted his downfall, including Billaud-Varenne, Barere and Paul Barras.
- Good Is Not Nice / Pure Is Not Good : (depending on one's perspective).
- Green Eyes: Was stated to have had eyes of sea-green, he augmented the effect with green tinted glasses that he wore.
- He Who Fights Monsters: He was actually against the death penalty in his early years, but during the French Revolutionary Wars he began to use the guillotine against France's enemies, including the royal family. It got worse when Jean-Paul Marat, an influential newspaper writer and politician known for advocating direct and often violent action by the general public, was murdered by a supporter of the rival Girondin Club. Marat himself noted Robespierre's initial reluctance to violence and extremism:
"Robespierre listened to me with terror. He grew pale and silent for some time. This interview confirmed me in the opinion that I always had of him, that he unites the knowledge of a wise senator with the integrity of a thoroughly good man and the zeal of a true patriot but that he is lacking as a statesman in clearness of vision and determination."
- Historical Beauty Update / Beauty Equals Goodness: Well averted mostly.
- The historical record during his active career when he was highly popular and respected describes him as an elegantly dressed dandy, who was while generally austere regarded proper grooming as his sole luxury. The portraits such as the one on top from 1790 even makes him quite handsome which might have overemphasized his reputation as "The Incorruptible" but more objective portraits show that he was not exactly ugly either. The same applies for sculptures and busts which make his facial features to be quite youthful, and he was in his early 30s during the Revolution. After his death, he was constantly denounced as a "pygmy" and frequently made more unattractive in depictions in the years to come.
- This controversy showed itself even more after a 2013 3D facial reconstruction that supposedly shows his features at the time of his death, which many critics denounce for being excessively demonic and completely differing from the historical record. The researchers stated they used Madame Tussaud's death mask as a basis for reconstruction but critics have noted that the death mask by Tussaud has long been regarded as a joke among professional historians since it lacks the widely reported jaw injury at the time of his execution and that the circumstances and manner in which Robespierre died make it next to impossible for Tussaud to have gotten access to Robespierre's head, since the Thermidorians immediately sought to dispose of his body and his remains and would certainly not have allowed comemoration of a man they just upgraded into a tyrant.
- Historical-Domain Character - Historical Villain Upgrade in most works.
- Hoist by His Own Petard: He was eventually executed via guillotine, the fate he and his regime assigned to so many others.
- I Did What I Had to Do: The common defense he has to this day, including opposing what he believed was more than what had to be done. More precisely, Robespierre was paranoid about the rise of a military dictatorship and the return of monarchy and justified the reign and his program of "civic virtue" on the same theme.
Republican virtue can be considered as it relates to the people and as it relates to the government. It is necessary in both. When the government alone is deprived of it, there remains a resource in the virtue of the people; but when the people themselves are corrupt, liberty is already lost. Happily virtue is natural to the people, despite aristocratic prejudices to the contrary. A nation is truly corrupt when, having gradually lost its character and its liberty, it passes from democracy to aristocracy or to monarchy; this is the death of the body politic through decrepitude...Demosthenes thundered in vain against Philip [of Macedon] , Philip found more eloquent advocates than Demosthenes among the degenerate inhabitants of Athens. There was still as large a population in Athens as in the times of Miltiades and Aristides, but there were no longer any true Athenians. And what did it matter that Brutus killed a tyrant? Tyranny still lived in every heart, and Rome existed only in Brutus.
- In his famous speech, Report on the Principles of Public Morality, he cites several examples describing his utopian belief in a Republic of Virtue:
- Needless to say, after Thermidor and the fall of Robespierre, the conspirators stopped the reform program of the revolution and successively brought into power, Napoleon made France an Empire and later re-installed Constitutional Monarchy. Of course, if Robespierre's fears were justified and ultimately vindicated, his methods were less than effective and in retrospect self-destructive.
- Irony: Despite the vast number of people he had beheaded, he couldn't stand the sight of blood. His entire life is one major one, since he eventually argued for and put in place the very things he argued against in the beginning of the Revolution, believing it as part of a necessity to win a war that he had opposed from the very start (and was nearly alone, save for Marat, in doing so).
- Jumping Off the Slippery Slope: Going from 'lawyer highly respected by the common people' to 'main figure in a Reign of Terror who winds up being Hoisted By His Own Petard' would be bad enough, but a little bit of irony makes it worse: in the early phases of the Revolution, Robespierre wrote a little pamphlet about how the death penalty is wrong, and should not be usednote . More generally, his actions throughout his revolutionary career were directed at creating a just society and preserving a nation in crisis. He jumped off the slope (according to some) by using terror to achieve this.
- Indeed, Robespierre did not start out as an extremist. He was initially considered a moderate and supported the Constitutional Monarchy and was even friendly with the Girondins. His idealism, self-righteousness and genuinely sincere belief in the Revolution's opportunity to give people a better future, forced him to take increasingly extreme positions at the constant betrayal and defections by the King and increasing corruption around him. By the time when he decided to moderate the Revolution, he ended up alienating some of his support base on the left and in Napoleon's words, ended up dying, "not worth a sou".
- Just the First Citizen: Deputy and Member of the Committee of Public Safety.
- Knight Templar
- Mis-blamed: Historians from England, France and America when writing about the Revolution devote considerable space to disclaiming why Robespierre is not a baby-eating psychopathic dictator, since the popular memory of the Revolution in the Anglophone is devoted to associating Robespierre and the Terror with the Revolution:
- Robespierre did not have any official capacity in the government until his election to the Committee of Public Safety in June 26 (one year to the day before his death), he was merely one member of a 12 Member Committee. That Commitee was not entirely run by the Jacobins, but comprised of Jacobins, radical extremists (Billaud-Varenne, Collot d'Herbois), Moderates (Barere) and the technocrats (Carnot, Lindet) who were not politically aligned but had vital skills to direct the war effort.
- The Terror was well underway before Robespierre joined. The legal instruments (the Commitees, the Revolutionary Tribunal) were put in place by none other than Danton himself. The reams of paperwork that survived from the period shows that Robespierre's signature is quite rare on official executions (much rarer than the supposedly moderate Carnot) and nonexistent in the period of the Great Terror. The Great Terror did result of a law drafted by his friend Georges Couthon, and passed with Robespiere's help, but he did not attend any meetings of the Committee during that time (he was sick and confined to his room) and had no direct overseeing capacity in the escalation of executions during that period, that fell to the same Commitee members who were supposedly horrified at his "excess".
- Its also neglected that there are many occassions, documented in memoirs and historical record, where Robespierre personally intervened and saved people's lives. Despite instigating the insurrection agianst the Girondins, he continually agitated against a Kill 'em All Purge that would have finished 75 deputies. He was personally responsible for the recalling of brutal representatives such as Carrier (responsible for the Noyades in Nantes), Barras, Tallien, Freron and personally expelled Joseph Fouche from the Jacobin club for his atrocities in Lyon. These representatives conspired agianst him on his downfall and successfully mounted a smear campaign to destroy his reputation.
- Off with His Head!: The Terror regime he served sent many, many people to the guillotine. And it was his ultimate fate.
- Overly Long Name: See Unfortunate Names below.
- Promotion to Parent: After the death of his mother and his father running away, Robespierre, the eldest of a family of five became this to them. He was especially close to his brother Augustin, who got executed alongside him, and his sister Charlotte who later wrote memoirs of growing up Robespierre...
- Scary Shiny Glasses: Because of poor eyesight he had to wear green tinted glasses, a fact that most depictions ignore. This eventually led him to have an aura of fear with one colleague, Merlin de Douai, who was part of the Thermidorian Reactionary faction stating, "If you had seen those green eyes of his".'
- Screw the Money, I Have Rules!: For all his flaws, he was genuinely incorruptible.
- Shrouded in Myth:
- Robespierre's personal papers were burnt by the government after Thermidor. Consequently, we only know him through his speeches, letters and other people's testimonies. This widely explain the contradictory views about him, since we have no way to know him "from the inside". In 2012-2013, long-suppressed manuscripts of his activity as a lawyer were rediscovered and after a petition by historians, purchased by the French government from Sothebys.
- Another thing that remains debated is his jaw injury on the night of his arrest. Some say it was a Bungled Suicide attempt (since many of his friends and his own brother tried to kill themselves and only one, Philippe Lebas succeeded). However, a National Guardsman Gendarme Merda claimed to have shot him in the face, and there are many coins commemorating his "achievement".
- Reign of Terror: A participant in the original; notably, he and his allies actually called it by that name. He also defined its conditions and describes its function in a February 1794 speech:
"If virtue be the spring of a popular government in times of peace, the spring of that government during a revolution is virtue combined with terror: virtue, without which terror is destructive; terror, without which virtue is impotent. Terror is only justice prompt, severe and inflexible; it is then an emanation of virtue; it is less a distinct principle than a natural consequence of the general principle of democracy, applied to the most pressing wants of the country ... The government in a revolution is the despotism of liberty against tyranny."
- The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized: Robespierre accepted this but came to believe that it can be civilized if "Terror" was wed with virtue.
- The Revolution Will Not Be Vilified: However dubious his actions were, he was a consistent abolitionist, anti-war, anti-expansionist, anti-racist and radical democrat.
- Toxic Friend Influence: The jury is still out if he was this to Saint-Just or Saint-Just was this to him. The two of them were pretty much the only best friends either had at the end.
- Unfortunate Names: Maximilien François Marie Isidore de Robespierre.
- Justified in context as most 18th Century French names were like this. Compare Lafayette's real name: Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de La Fayette.
- Robespierre defied this in that he dropped the "de" particle very early in his career (a family tradition of pretense at petty nobility) and identified himself as Citizen Maximilien Robespierre.
- The Republic of Virtue Justifies The Means
- We ARE Struggling Together: A very accurate description of the Revolutionaries as a whole, and France in general at the time.
- We Used to Be Friends: In the course of the Revolution, Robespierre often split from several people he was friendly with. His willingness to sacrifice friendship for patriotism, while seen as an embodiment of Roman stoicism in the Revolutionary era, understandably strikes modern observers as callous.
- Initially he was close friends with the people who came to be called Girondins — Jerome Petion (both of them were called "the incorruptibles"), was a regular visitor to Madame Roland's salon. The Girondins felt betrayed when Robespierre opposed them on the war because they had otherwise had similar ideas. Robespierre for his part was upset that the Girondins used their political press to start a smear campaign against him, even calling him a royalist and enemy spy, which considering his self-righteous patriotism would have been hard to take.
- Camille Desmoulins and Danton were also friends and political allies until 1794. Robespierre was godfather to Camille's son and out of personal friendship he defended both of them from the more zealous Committee members. Later he willingly supplied evidence to Saint-Just to denounce Danton at the Convention. Danton famously issued a Dying Curse on the day of his death, announcing to Robespierre as he passed by his house, "You will follow us shortly."
- Well-Intentioned Extremist: Napoleon Bonaparte himself said it best in his years of exile on Saint Helena:
Napoleon: " Robespierre was by no means the worst character who figured in the Revolution. He was a fanatic, a monster, but he was incorruptible, and incapable of robbing, or causing the deaths of others, either from personal enmity, or a desire of enriching himself. He was an enthusiast; but one who really believed that he was acting right, and died not worth a sou."
- Workaholic: Robespierre was a hard-worker who slept short hours, ate very frugally and extensively wrote all his speeches. Indeed he actually suffered from over-worked and regular illnesses which left him incapacited from the Committee of Public Safety, especially the final month before Thermidor.